When I tell people that I study chemistry, the reactions I receive are generally pretty similar: slight winces, exclamations of disgust, or, when talking to another science major, relief that they don’t have to endure the winces and exclamations of disgust. When I tell people that I study philosophy, people generally find it absolutely necessary to ask infantile questions about the meaning of life or the existence of chairs. On the other hand, when I tell people that I study both, I am generally met with two things, one right after the other: a blank stare followed by a confused, “What do you do with that?” This reaction always makes me laugh.
I find it funny because, out of all the things that could be asked of someone who supposedly has such high volumes of knowledge, the first question that I’m asked is about what sort of career I would pursue. People often forget that not so long ago, there wasn’t really much of a distinction between the two studies, or at least people who were curious about one were curious about the other. To me, as well as to many academics throughout, well, all of human history, it doesn’t seem to make sense that one would be curious about the world (science) and not simultaneously curious about how we think about the world (philosophy). But then again, these days people don’t study at universities because of curiosity; they study because they need jobs.
And of course I need a job too; I suffer no illusion about this matter. I just think that I have a somewhat different take upon the process by which one starts a career. Young people enter into college with the attitude that whatever it is that they study will determine what sorts of job they will get. Obviously there is logic behind this; you wouldn’t study biology if you intended to pursue a career in economics. But there is contained in this logic a sense in which you must choose immediately what you want to do with the rest of your life. Even I was certainly a victim of this sort of thinking, and only recently have I begun to emerge from this.
College, for me, was a chance to hone my mind. It wasn’t a chance for me to study a particular subject that I found interesting; it was a chance for me to sharpen my mind against those subjects. See, for me, it’s impossible to contain my curiosities to just a single aspect of the world; to do so would certainly eliminate part of what makes me the person who I am. There are many people who have an inherent love for whatever it is that they are studying, and these people will go on to produce many magnificent feats in those fields. I, on the other hand, have love for something else other than what I study. What I love is not limited to a single field or subject matter.
What I love is ideas.
Scientific ideas, fictional ideas, philosophical ideas, business ideas: you can’t ask me to choose. Ideas, to me, are the most powerful things in the universe, and not just in the way Inception would have you believe. The sun contains within it more energy than we could possibly know what to do with, yet the sun cannot love, cannot create empires, cannot do any of the amazing or mundane things that our ideas allow us to do everyday. In the humble idea there is the power to move mountains, molecules, and even men, if only we could create those ideas. I intend to do just that.
So what does one do after having studied chemistry and philosophy? What sort of career can subsist on ideas alone? I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what that is, but I think I’ve finally made a clear decision as to what I want to do.
Wherever this takes me, it’ll be a fun ride; you can be sure of that.